Hulu may still be known mostly for TV (and its insistence on reminding people they have live sports) but they also have a pretty impressive catalog of action movies. You may not be able to see a high-powered blockbuster in theaters in 2020, but that shouldn’t stop you from watching one at home! Here are the 30 best.
Roland Emmerich, the modern King of the Disaster Blockbusters, delivered one of his most ridiculously over-the-top movies in this 2009 tale of the apocalypse foretold to come just three years later. A great ensemble elevates some admittedly thin material, but no one comes to this for performance or character — it’s about the world blowing up real good and the movie delivers exactly what it promises.
Danny Boyle directed this unexpected critical and commercial darling, a film that influenced dozens of inferior works in the two decades since its release. It’s the story of a man (Cillian Murphy) who wakes up to discover that the world around him is gone. Society has disappeared because of a highly contagious virus. Yes, it will almost certainly play differently after the events of 2020 than it ever has before.
Yann Demange directed this tight and taut retelling of an event in Belfast during the height of The Troubles in 1971. The great Jack O’Connell (Godless) plays a new recruit in the British Army who has basically been stranded behind enemy lines after a violent encounter and is forced to fight his way home. O’Connell is fantastic in a film that increases tension with each subsequent scene. You won’t be able to catch your breath.
Takashi Miike has made directed over 100 movies, and this is one of the best, a stylish throwback to samurai cinema of old anchored by the modern filmmaking prowess of one of the best filmmakers alive. A remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film, this is loosely based on actual events from 1844 when 12 samurai storytelling and sprays of samurai blood.
James Mangold directed this remake of the 1957 classic, which was based on a short story by the great Elmore Leonard. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are excellent as the bad and good guy, respectively, from Ben Foster. It’s a tense, well-crafted genre piece that seems overdue for a reappraisal.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 adaptation of the hit manga franchise has been often imitated but rarely duplicated. See what the big deal is about with a revisit of a film that has influenced literally hundreds of other works, animated and live-action, in the three decades since its release. They’re always talking about remaking it, but it usually falls apart. People are probably scared to walk in the shadow of such an achievement.
Hulu is the best at bringing recent indie films to their streaming service with remarkable speed. Take this thriller that was first available on VOD in September 2020 and is already on the streamer. Jules Wilcox plays a young woman traveling alone one night who is kidnapped by a maniac, played memorably by Marc Menchaca. John Hyams directs this taut genre exercise.
This Sundance hit from 2018 seems to be growing a cult following more with each passing day. It’s a story of rebellion and toxic social media culture led by Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Abra. After a computer hacker releases the secrets of everyone in the town of Salem, well, a modern kind of witch hunt goes down. It gets violent and intense in unexpected ways.
Hulu can be a little odd when it comes to franchises, often including only parts of major trilogies or series. Such is the case now with the streaming giant carrying 2/3rds of Christopher Nolan’s landmark Dark Knight trilogy. Watch the first two and then rent the third one to complete the experience.
Ted Demme directed this entertaining adaptation of Bruce Porter’s book of the same name, loosely based on the true story of American cocaine smuggler George Jung, played by Johnny Depp. Jung got involved with the Medellin drug cartel in unexpected and dangerous ways. Depp is ably supported by Penelope Cruz, Franke Potente, Rachel Griffiths, and Ray Liotta.
Travis Knight of Laika fame (Kubo and the Two Strings) directed the best Transformers movie in this unexpectedly joyous spinoff of the massive Hasbro series of films. It’s a movie with the same kind of family/adventure spirit as ’80s classics of the genre, buoyed by fun performances from Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena.
Alexandre Aja directed this razor-sharp 2019 film about a father and daughter trapped in a basement as flood waters rise during a hurricane. Oh, and they just happen to be being hunted by alligators. A combination of disaster flick and monster flick tropes, Aja’s film is a delight from start to finish. There’s not an ounce of fat on this one.
Three of the first four films in the beloved Bruce Willis action franchise are on Hulu (and one could add Die Hard 2 with a Cinemax add-on package if they really want to be a completist). Die Hard With a Vengeance is underrated and Live Free or Die Hard has its moments, but the original is still the masterpiece, a film that truly rewrote the rules for the genre, shifting it more to everyman characters like Willis and away from muscular stars like Sly and Arnold.
This live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon has no right to be as funny and clever as it is. It helps that newcomer Isabela Moner is a delightful lead as Dora, but there’s also a delightfully self-aware tongue-in-cheek tone to this film, one that’s funny without every taking itself too seriously. It’s a sweet family adventure movie that works equally for parents and little ones.
The Sly Stallone adaptation of the comic character Judge Dredd is also on Hulu, but this is the superior 2012 version, one that bombed in theaters but has developed a very loyal following over the years. Karl Urban stars as Dredd, a futuristic enforcer who doesn’t have to turn to a bailiff or jury to render his judgments.
Kurt Wimmer wrote and directed this sci-fi action flick that made almost nothing when it was released but built a cult following over the years. Sure, it’s heavily inspired by The Matrix, but it’s still fun stuff, anchored by a committed performance by Christian Bale as an officer in a future in which human emotions have been controlled by prescription drugs. So, basically 2020.
Marathon time: All three of the films in this franchise are on Hulu, waiting to fulfill your needs for macho, testosterone-heavy action. The first remains the best, uniting a cadre of classic action stars from across the generations. In fact, the stars were so well-known that the poster just includes their surnames in massive fonts: Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Couture, Austin, Crews, Rourke, Willis. Pick your fave.
The Forbidden Kingdom
Sure, sure—a movie starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan should have been better than this one, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t worth a look on Hulu on a boring weeknight. Heavy on special effects, this 2008 film is a kung fu wuxia flick loosely based on Journey to the West and contains action sequences choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping.
The Good, The Bad, and the Weird
What if we told you there was a crazy, stylish, unforgettable Korean Western that you’ve never seen just sitting there on Hulu? Kim Jee-woon’s 2008 epic is a study in style, a movie that blends Spaghetti Western influences with modern sensibilities and action choreography. It’s not unlike The Matrix meets Sergio Leone.
Will Smith plays John Hancock in one of those odd massively huge blockbuster hits that surprisingly never became a franchise (despite making over $600 million worldwide). Smith’s Hancock is a superhero who just doesn’t care about the damage he costs the city of Los Angeles as he enacts his brand of justice. Is it a great movie? No, not really, but it’s totally watchable, in part because of Smith’s sizable screen presence and a fun supporting turn by Charlize Theron, who is literally always good.
David Mackenzie’s 2016 modern western is feeling more and more like a definitive film of the last decade with each passing year. There aren’t many films that one could consider better at capturing the lengths people will go to hold on to what’s theirs than this story of two brothers (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) who become bank robbers to save their family land. The cast is uniformly great, but it’s Taylor Sheridan’s excellent script that really makes this a special movie.
It may not have exactly been a “comeback film” but it was still fun to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in action mode in 2013 when he starred in this, his first film in a leading role in a decade. The amazing Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) directs the story of a small-town sheriff who will do anything to stop the drug lord trying to get through his town.
It’s rare for a fourth film in a franchise to be considered its best, but some certainly feel that this Brad Bird 2011 banger qualifies. It essentially rebooted the franchise in which Tom Cruise tries to kill himself for your entertainment value, leading to the worldwide success of Rogue Nation and Fallout. This movie rules.
John McTiernan directed a 1987 sci-fi/action flick that became one of the biggest hits of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. The premise is wonderfully simple: a paramilitary rescue team faces off against the universe’s deadliest killing machine. Some of it is a bit dated now, but it’s a great snapshot of why Arnold became one of the biggest stars in the world.
The Predator franchise sure is weird. There’s the classic original, one that influenced all of sci-fi. Then there was a straight-up sequel (that’s bad) and there was also a 2018 remake by Shane Black and two Alien vs. Predator movies (also very bad). If anything, this is the chapter that most people have forgotten exists at all, the 2010 reboot starring Adrien Brody. It’s not the best Predator movie, but it’s not the worst either.
There’s a reason this is reportedly the most streamed original Hulu film to date. People love a good thriller, and Run is a tight piece of work. Newcomer Kiera Allen is phenomenal as a young woman who has been told her entire life that she’s sick, but she discovers that her mother (Sarah Paulson) may be hiding a horrible secret.
One of Jason Statham’s bigger bombs when compared to films in the Transporter and Furious franchises, this 2012 thriller deserves another look and, well, any Statham movie on Hulu is going to be on this list. Statham stars as an ex-cop who ends up protecting a child who is being chased by just about everyone, including the Russian mafia and the Chinese Triads. Don’t mess with Statham.
It’s so weird that this didn’t start a franchise. Angelina Jolie should have appeared in multiple movies as action hero Evelyn Salt. When Salt is accused of being a Russian sleeper agent, she’s forced to go on the run in this tight thriller from the great Phillip Noyce. Liev Schreiber, August Diehl, and Chiwetel Ejiofor also star.
*Shadow in the Cloud
Roseanne Liang directed this cuckoo movie that one must really see to believe. What starts as a relatively straightforward action movie about a female WWII pilot (Chloe Grace Moretz) becomes something very different when it turns out her plane as a special visitor. It’s the kind of ridiculously fun B-movie that sometimes makes the perfect fit on a Saturday night.
The 23rd official James Bond film is also one of the best. Daniel Craig’s third film as the world’s most famous spy, and it plays as a much more complex film than most 007 action flicks thanks to serious direction from Sam Mendes and gorgeous cinematography from Richard Deakins. It may be Craig’s best Bond flick (it’s this or Casino Royale). Watch it while you wait for the long-delayed No Time to Die.
The fourth film to feature Tom Clancy’s character of Jack Ryan saw a third actor take the role in Ben Affleck, and he had trouble escaping the shadows of previous leading men Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. Ryan is brought into an international situation again when a bomb explodes in Baltimore. It’s not the best Ryan flick, but it gets the job done.
Long before every comic book got an adaptation somewhere came this quirky 1995 cult hit based on the series of the same name by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, and Malcolm McDowell star in this post-apocalyptic action comedy with a punk rock aesthetic. Some of it doesn’t work, for sure, but it’s got a unique sensibility and has become even more popular in the quarter-century since it was released.
Roland Emmerich directed two of the biggest foreign action stars in the world in Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in this sci-fi/action film about a U.S. Army soldier killed in Vietnam and resurrected with a program designed to create super soldiers. Critics kind of hated it, but it made enough to start a franchise, and has gained a following over the years.
Those with a fear of heights need to avoid this 2010 thriller from the craftsman Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). Chris O’Donnell and Robin Tunney star as siblings who lose their father in a horrible climbing accident, but they’re forced to reckon with their trauma when she decides to take the summit at K2. It’s formulaic but well-made.
Disaster movies aren’t just for Americans anymore! The premise of this is the kind of simple wonder that they used to make in Hollywood more in the ‘70s and ‘80s. An avalanche causes a large enough rockslide into a body of water that it creates a tsunami, and a nervous geologist is one of the few people who knows the carnage that’s about to come. Well-acted and smartly constructed, this is a wonderful slice of disaster escapism.